The National Tree lighting in Washington D.C. - 100th anniversary

Although the dazzling Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in NYC receives the most tourist and media attention, The National Tree is an iconic sight in its’ own right. If you find yourself visiting D.C. over the holiday season, you will want to add seeing this beautiful tree to your itinerary. 2022 marked the 100th anniversary of the lighting of the magnificent tree which stands tall on The Ellipse (part of “The President’s Park) near The White House. The tree lighting tradition actually dates back 10 years prior to the first Rockefeller Center tree lighting in 1933.

History of The National Tree

The National Tree lighting ceremony began during the Presidency of Calvin Coolidge in 1923. The tree was a 48 foot tall Balsam Fir. On Christmas Eve, 3000 spectators watched the event. Today, the lighting is so popular that tickets are only available via a lottery system. From 1924-1953, various trees were lighted in various locations near The White House on Christmas Eve. The tree returned to The Ellipse the following year. Cut trees were used from 1954-1973. Today, live trees are planted.

The Christmas Pageant of Peace made its’ debut in 1954. Live trees representing all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, created a Pathway of Peace. Today, students from schools across 58 states create handmade ornaments to deck the tree.

The 2022 tree is a 28 footer featuring gorgeous white and gold lights and ornaments. Over 40 ornaments and 63,000 LED lights adorn the sparkling tree. The tree is open free to the public for viewing after the official lighting ceremony in late November. In 2022, the tree opened for viewing on Dec. 2nd. The lighting ceremony airs on CBS on December 11th. The star studded event includes performances by Shania Twain, the United States Marine Band, and LL Cool J. If you cannot score in person tickets, you can catch the broadcast live on TV or download the show on the website.

Read more about the history of The National Tree

How to see the tree

The tree is lit from Dec. 2nd through New Year’s Day. Lights go on at dusk and stay on until 10pm on weekdays and 11pm on Friday and Saturdays. The Ellipse is located at: 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Note that tourists will be out in full force, especially in the week leading up to Christmas. Visit on a weekday, if possible.

Also, I recommend watching The National Tree if you are into Hallmark movies. This gem starring Andrew McCarthy is about a father and son taking a cross country road trip from Oregon to D.C. after the son’s Sitka spruce tree is chosen to be planted outside the White House. The movie is based on a 2001 novel by David Kranes.

More holiday/winter fun in the Capitol Hill/National Mall region

Ice skating at The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – Beautiful well-maintained rink which faces the historic National Archives building. Reasonably priced and never over crowded.

Ice skating rink at The National Sculpture Garden in DC

Season’s Greetings at the U.S. Botanical Gardens – Enjoy a peaceful walk through the conservatory and enjoy seasonal poinsettia displays, as well as replicas of D.C. area landmarks. Read more about this great free event!

US Botanical Gardens Lincoln Memorial replica

The Capitol Hill Tree – A stunning tree which sits on the West Lawn of the historic U.S. Capitol. More dazzling than The National Tree and less crowded too! The tradition dates back to 1964.

Gorgeous Christmas tree in front of the Capitol Hill building in DC

The National Gallery of Art – One of D.C.’s best museums features several illuminated trees and seasonal floral displays. A great place to visit over the holidays as you get to enjoy wonderful artwork plus beautiful seasonal displays. Check out my full guide to this spectacular art museum.

Beautiful fountain with poinsettias at The National Gallery of Art in DC